We almost didn’t go to Srinagar. Located in northern India’s Kashmir region, this area has had episodes of unrest since India and Pakistan gained independence from Britain in 1947. Border disputes and grievances with the Indian government have resulted in protests throughout the region.
This area, however, has been mostly quiet for the last 5-10 years, so we booked flights and looked forward to lounging around a houseboat on Dal Lake.
Then a few weeks before our flights, several protesters were killed near Srinagar. We got worried. Will it escalate? Is it still safe to go? Should we cancel our flights?
We scoured the internet for information. We looked into canceling our flight.
The protest happened 80 km from Srinagar. Except for a weekend of curfews, the city itself was unaffected. Tourist were still arriving daily. And we couldn’t change or cancel our flight without incurring huge fees. So we decided to go.
When we arrived at the airport the only thing that seemed different was that we had to fill out foreigner registration cards. Well, that and the armed guards everywhere.
We made arrangements at the houseboat kiosk for a taxi to the lake where we could book a houseboat for the week.
As we made our way from the airport, I looked around and felt like I was not quite in India anymore. The women still wore saris, but the signs were all in Urdu. The architecture of the buildings were different. The city was cleaner and seemed more affluent than Varanasi and Rajasthan.
Turning towards the center of the city, the heavy military presence could not be ignored. Officers with guns stood on every corner. I wondered if there was more security because of the recent protest or if there were always a lot of armed guards in the city.
We arrived at the lake and were paddled across the water to The Jupiter, a class B houseboat in our price range. There, an agent arranged a packaged deal for us: 6 nights on the houseboat with breakfast and dinner included, a city tour, a lake tour (lunch included), and a day trip to Naranag (lunch included) for 650 USD. While this was a bit over our $100 a day budget, we thought it was a pretty good deal.
During the city tour we visited two mosques and a garden.
One mosque was a large brick structure built in a square with a foundation in the center.
Lots of people were wandering around or praying. We could all walk through almost the whole thing.
The other mosque was an older wooden building with beautiful carvings and paintings. Only Rand was allowed to go inside.
Sierra, especially loved all the flowers at the garden.
On the lake tour, we were paddled across the lake to a man made island, where we were almost as interesting as the island itself and received many photo requests.
Then we visited a Mughal garden on the lake’s edge. The sprawling tiered garden seemed to reach from the lake to the foothills.
I’m not a big flower photographer, but Arwen took some nice shots.
We were also very popular at the garden.
Then we were paddled across the lake through a footbridge.
On the other side of the lake we visited a large white mosque.
Then a leisurely (for us, at least) paddle through a residential area, where we saw locals fishing, playing in the water, and paddling around.
The lake is so glassy, the reflections are amazing.
I’m so glad we didn’t skip this part of the trip. I never felt unsafe in Srinagar (well once, but that’s a story for the next post).
The lake was so peaceful and beautiful. The people were very friendly.
There were only two negative parts of our experience in Srinagar. First, the food served at the houseboat was terrible. It was practically inedible. We had to stuff ourselves at lunch at a delicious restaurant across the lake called Kareem’s, so we wouldn’t be hungry.
And there was no wifi. We didn’t expect any on the houseboat, but when we asked the agent, he said, “Of course.” Ha! He gave us the password for his boat across the lake, which I could get to connect once a day if I sat in the exact right spot on the deck and didn’t move. No else even bothered with it.
The high security didn’t effect our stay in Srinagar at all until our flight to Leh. Then we had to send our bags through three different x-ray machines, be patted down twice, and dump out the entire contents of our carry on bags.
Still it was worth it. A relaxing week on houseboat being paddled around a gorgeous lake, experiencing a totally different culture without leaving India. Oh, and horse trekking, but I will tell you about that in my next post.